By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
When McNary High School senior Zach Hammerschmith was in seventh grade he wanted to play basketball, but his mom encouraged him to give wrestling a try.
“My cousin, Trevor Davis, was wrestling at the time and she’d seen what it had done for him. She wouldn’t even let me try basketball,” Hammerschmith said.
At the time, reaching the finals match of a state tournament wasn’t even a blip on the radar. But, last weekend, that was precisely what he did. Hammerschmith battled his way to the premiere match in the 185-pound weight bracket and came up just short of his attempt at the state title.
“I knew the kid (Roseburg High School’s Max Hane) was good, and I knew it would be a tough match,” Hammerschmith said.
Hane had beaten Hammerschmith earlier this season, but he and Jason Ebbs, McNary head coach, had planned for the possibility of a rematch.
“He had his training in line, his attitude was good. He made a plan for himself in every match, and he had two jobs to beat Hane: stop the guy’s tilt and continue taking him down,” Ebbs said.
Hane’s tilt led to his win the last time the two wrestlers met and, this time around, Hammerschmith stopped it completely. It was the other job that didn’t go quite as planned.
“Zach got the takedowns he wanted, but Hane got reversals and then a late takedown,” Ebbs said.
Hane took the match, and the state title, with a 12-6 decision. Hammerschmith finished his high school career in second.
Earlier in the state tournament, Hammerschmith had to grind out a win over Crater High School’s Micah Walker in overtime and it was a match where he nearly psyched himself out.
“It was a guy I had beaten before, but it was the same match where I’d gotten eliminated last year,” Hammerschmith said. “I got a takedown with three seconds left to tie it, but I knew I had him once we were in overtime.”
Hammerschmith won in a 5-3 decision. Hammerschmith isn’t precisely sure of where he’ll go after McNary, but he’s hoping to continue wrestling at Southwest Oregon Community College or Southern Oregon University. For the moment, he’s reveling in just what he accomplished, which includes earning a spot on the McNary wrestling Wall of Fame.
“What was cool and special was that Trevor was there to help warm me up for some of the earlier matches,” Hammerscmith said. “To be honest, if you have told me that I would one day make it to the state finals, I would never have imagined that.”
Hammerschmith’s second-place finish was the best of any Celtic in the tournament, but a number of wrestlers found themselves hanging on as others dropped away.
“We had several fourth place guys at the regional tournament, but the prize for fourth place is wrestling one of the toughest guys from another region,” Ebbs said.
Still, McNary’s Jonathon Phelps rose to the challenge. He ousted Lake Oswego’s Brian Fay in his first match of the tournament in a 4-1 win, but couldn’t pull off the trick twice.
Phelps’ brother Michael lost his first match but scrambled back through the consolation brackets to end up one match away from placing.
“Jon and Mike are a pair of our unorthodox wrestlers. They don’t look like tough guys when you pass them in the hall, but they get the job done,” Ebbs said.
For Louis Palos, the Celtics’ only returning state placer, the tournament wasn’t as kind. After winning his first match in a 9-4 decision, Palos lost two-in-a-row and was ousted.
“Louis got caught in a tough bracket in a tough year. He’s a person I have a lot of respect for. He’s a three-sport athlete and it was an accomplishment to place at state at all. Most of the guys who place are year-round wrestlers,” Ebbs said.
Alvarro Venegas, at 195 pounds, was the one of the last bright spots for the Celts. Venegas, who shed 25 pounds after wrestling as a sophomore, won his first match by pin in the second round then fell short in his next two matches. However, Ebbs is keeping his eye on Venegas’s future.
“He beat the first guy handily and then lost two close ones, but he’s stuck with it even when things haven’t gone his way. We’re happy to call him a teammate,” Ebbs said.
Taran Purkey, a junior, and Caleb Conner, a senior, also finished their seasons representing McNary at the state tournament.